The depth of the boy’s discovery in Sons for the Return Home is all the more significant because of the way he comes to discover himself, the girl, and the world around him. The way the boy perceives the natural world, the city, and society changes as his character grows. The intimate relationship the boy shares with the girl forces him to direct his attention towards his inability to reconcile the conflicting emotions within himself. Having been raised in a country that is not his own, coupled with his upbringing creates a degree of alienation. This alienation is further cultivated through the external world’s focus on race and ethnicity in relation to how an individual is perceived and then valued. The boy is full of hatred and resentment; he is an outsider in his own home. The development of the boy once he encounters this girl, this papalagi girl, emphasizes the importance of interpersonal relationships and their role as magnified and framed contact zones. The fact that the girl is a papalagi creates another conflict the boy must cope with. He loves that which he was taught to see differently. The boy has a racist view of the papalagi people just as many papalagi people have a negative view of him. The difference in the boy before and after he has loved the girl reflects the notion of never going back. The interaction and growth achieved in the relationship has created a permanent change within both the boy and the girl. It was the girl who allowed the boy to establish a connection to the land and to nature as a whole. “By loving her, he was feeling for the first time a growing and meaningful attachment to the country which had bred her” (24). The country became the girl for the boy. He was aware of how he was changing, and knew the reason for why he was changing. The way the boy responded to the papalagi boy at the party after the couple returned from their trip indicates the change he was experiencing: “Before I met you I would have broken him in front of his friends. I would have enjoyed it” (126). The boy no longer feels a need to ‘prove’ anything, and this reflects his growth as a man through his relationship with the girl.
The trip the couple took through the North Island was about discovery and exploration in a literal as well as figurative way. As the boy and girl grew together, they were discovering more about themselves. The differences in the relationship when the couple is alone and in nature differs from the issues they must grapple with in society. And society and cultural identities often pierce the protective shell that is the couple’s private relationship. Even when the couple is alone, issues of race, ethnicity, and society penetrate and expose the inner feelings of the boy and the girl. There is a moment when the girl purposely tries to hurt the boy by bringing up the other papalagi men she had been sexual with before him. After they argue, the boy is desperate for reassurance, he needs to believe that she loves him more, that he is the only man she has ever loved (116). There are underlying insecurities that will always be present in their relationship. They may not escape their identities, or the identities given to them by society, and the novel takes the reader through their attempt to love despite cultural ties. After the abortion (a representation of the failed attempt to unite their respective cultures) and the dissolve of the relationship, the boy is markedly different from the boy we are first introduced to at the start of the novel. The return to Samoa expresses a discord and a longing for the country the boy used to hate. His native culture is strange and he does not seem to fit in (we see this physically represented when he becomes ill from the ‘foreign’ food for i.e.). He is a product of the culture he took on in New Zealand. Even though there is no returning to the girl, the boy is able to return because of the girl. He came to love New Zealand through his love of her. New Zealand is then his home, and that is where he ultimately returns. He found himself in the girl as she found herself in him. Essentially, the boy and the girl served as a surrogate home for one another. Although it is sad to witness the struggle the couple goes through, both the boy and the girl learn from their time together in the end; they have provided a “point of balance” (216) for one another and have healed one another to a certain degree. Even though they are not together, the boy and girl are connected. It seems fitting to me that the boy and girl do not stay together in the end. Their relationship was a learning experience and a journey toward discovery. The memory of their time together will therefore have a greater impact (almost haunting) on their lives.